CIO East Africa (Nairobi)

11 August 2014

Kenya: ICT and Development Discussed in U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit

'This is a great moment to invest in Africa; but for African markets to survive and thrive they need to instill investor confidence and that depends on transparent and reliable access to data.' Michael Bloomberg.

'Investing in the next generation' was the theme of the three day historical summit held in Washington from the 4th of August.

The US-Africa Leaders Summit 2014 in Washington was a first of its kind, where an American president hosted the largest gathering ever of African leaders who came together to engage in conversations that delved into Africa's successes and solutions for the various challenges that derail development. The summit was titled 'The Game Has Changed: The New Landscape for Innovation and Business in Africa.'

According to the US Government site, the objective of the summit was to strengthen trade ties between the US and Africa; a continent growing at an enviable rate by any standard. As it stands today, six of the ten fastest growing world economies are African and over the last decade, the average income in the continent has increased with 30 per cent.

By the end of the summit, American companies had announced major deals that touched on different sectors such as energy, infrastructure, ICT, hospitality and banking with a whooping total worth of over $14 billion.

Already, the American multi-national company IBM has invested in the first ever major technological research lab in Kenya, to enable innovators develop tech solutions for the African market.

During the summit, Bloomberg Philanthropies in partnership with the US Department of Commerce co-hosted the first ever US-Africa Business Forum dubbed 'Powering Africa: Leading Developments in infrastructure'.

Speaking at the forum was the founder and chairman of global telecommunications company Econet Wireless, Strive Masiyiwa who stated that 650 million Africans have mobile phones and investments from the private sector are in the range of over $100 billion. Meaning, as has been the case in recent history, many solutions to African challenges will most likely come through 'leapfrogging' using technological innovations that will most likely be mobile phone based. Kenya's M-pesa makes a good case study.

Currently, the innovative mobile money transfer system M-pesa, has over nineteen million subscribers that can transfer cash safely and transparently; an advantage for policy makers according to Bob Collymore of Safaricom Ltd. Collymore said in an interview during the summit 'It (M-pesa) not only increases the velocity of cash, but it also gives the policy makers visibility of what cash there is in the market place.'

Other innovations such as Beba Pay by Google and Equity Bank have made it easy to monitor and secure transactions in the transport sector. Mobile banking has also been adopted by many financial institutions in the country, making it easier to transact business.

With proper investments in the ICT sector, the words of a young African leader from the continent may soon ring true 'Africa is no longer a sleeping giant but is awake and open for business.'

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